Selfless acts of bravery marked at water safety awards

‘Instinct and adrenaline took over’ as he dived in to save drowning boys, aged five and six

Martin Cullinane with his Seiko Just In Time award for a commendable act of heroism. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Martin Cullinane with his Seiko Just In Time award for a commendable act of heroism. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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Martin Cullinane (46) remembers sitting for dinner in his first-floor apartment last April when he looked out the window to see two young brothers screaming for help, floundering in the cold, choppy tidal waters of Mariners Quay in Passage West, Co Cork.

From that point, Mr Cullinane’s memory fades. “All I can remember is how salty the water was,” said Mr Cullinane.

Soon after seeing the boys, aged five and six, his instincts and adrenaline took over, as he dived into the water wearing nothing but his pyjamas.

He pulled the first boy to shore before jumping back into the harbour to save the second, who had foam coming out of his mouth from consuming too much salt water.

“I knew the first boy was okay but the second fella I was really worried about,” explained Mr Cullinane. “I thought he was dead . . . The euphoria you feel is unbelievable when you realise he’s alive.”

Mr Cullinane learned how to swim in primary school, but he has no formal rescue training. His actions saved the two boys, who were almost certain to become statistics in Ireland, where nearly 127 people drown every year.

Honoured

Mr Cullinane’s bravery was mirrored by nearly 40 other rescuers, who were honoured for preventing 36 near-drowning incidents in 2018 during the annual Irish Water Safety National Awards ceremony at Dublin Castle on Wednesday.

Award recipients were gifted Seiko Just in Time watches for their heroic actions. And they were presented with certificates commemorating the occasion by Minister of State at the Department Community Development Seán Canney.

“It is an honour to pay tribute to these courageous recipients,” said Mr Canney. “Tragically an average of 127 people drown in Ireland every year and although that’s 127 too many, the figure would be even higher but for the dramatic efforts of these individuals.”

Mr Canney also commended the work of Irish Water Safety volunteers, 63 of whom were recognised at the ceremony for their long-term service. The 63 volunteers have served more than 1,315 combined years teaching swimming, water rescue and survival skills in communities nationwide.

According to representatives from Irish Water Safety, average yearly drowning deaths in Ireland were down 29 per cent in the last decade compared to the previous four. And 2017’s total of 109 drowning deaths was Ireland’s lowest recorded figure since 1952.

Irish Water Safety’s Deputy chief executive Roger Sweeney credits the decrease in drowning deaths to the organisation’s volunteers and awareness campaigns, which have helped change the country’s attitudes towards – and behaviour around – rivers, lakes and oceans over the past several years.

“Ireland used to have an unhealthy cultural fear of water,” said Mr Sweeney. “In the last number of years, people have definitely changed their attitudes and developed a healthy respect for the aquatic environment.”

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